From the Water Cooler to the Web- Embracing Social Media in the Workplace
Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Here at Ascentum, we use social media in a variety of ways. Not only do we help our clients engage their stakeholders through various social media platforms, but we are also constantly tapped into these outlets, publishing weekly blog posts, posting hourly twitter updates and moderating topical Facebook conversations.

Brought up using social media tools to interact with friends and family, I would expect these tools to be put to use in the workplace to engage with colleagues.  However, the reality is that many places have ignored the social revolution. This makes me think, how valuable is social media to an organization?

I recently read an interview with Peter Williams, CEO of Deloitte Digital and one of Australia’s leaders in the digital world. As an advocate for social innovation, Williams believes that this Cultural Revolution generates a compelling chance for companies. He says though it may be scary, “if you don’t embrace change, and understand how you can leverage it, you will just fall behind”.

Williams also expresses frustration at the managers who use the clichéd idea that “our staff is our greatest asset” but then block their staff from using social media at work. He says that a truly enlightened leader encourages communication and the wholesale sharing of ideas within their organization.

This concept of social media participation in the workplace has given birth to a handy little tool known as Yammer, a free social network for the workplace. Access to an organization’s Yammer network is determined by a user’s Internet Domain, so only those with the same email addresses may join their respective networks. It’s like moving the conversation from the water cooler to the web – but throwing in the popularly used Facebook “like” function and the option to create fun, informative surveys.

When asked how Yammer got started in his company, Williams recalls kicking ideas around in the innovation team, when someone simply said, ‘why don’t we give this a go.’  “I think that is the first lesson about adoption of social media,” he says. And he’s right. It’s worth a try. Why? Because it’s free, designed to be simple, and you have nothing to lose.

In early February, Ascentum started using Yammer, and it seems to have taken off naturally. Many have commented on how convenient it is to know what others are working on, and to feel “in touch” with colleagues even amidst the busy work hours when chats by the water cooler are infrequent and cut short. It fulfills the same purpose all social media aims to achieve – an extra branch of communication that keeps the conversation going.

While Yammer has been a hit, Williams says that companies who use these tools are still in a minority. He noticed that the default position of most organizations is to resist the use of social media in the workplace, at the fear of misbalancing hierarchy. But he digresses, “Anyone wanting a highly rigid hierarchy or to be in a controlling position will find himself increasingly under threat from active social networks.”

What’s the bottom line here? Well I can say that it feels good to work in an environment that has not only embraced the social revolution, but has manipulated it into a strategic tool for engagement. I think it’s clear that whatever your organization does, you should be exploring the ways you could leverage these new tools. Social media is not frivolous, and it is not a fad. It’s an opportunity. As Williams so accurately puts it “Leaders either see the light – or feel the heat”.

-Holly Clark-

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